How I Beat My Fear Of Wedding Dress Shops

The Unconventional Bride bites the bridal bullet at Halfpenny London

They say as we get older we discover more about ourselves, but for me it took getting engaged to realise I have a whole phobia I’d been previously unaware of. Wedding dress shopping.

Having thought about it at length I gave myself a talking to (and a glass of wine the size of a wedding cake) and decided I was being ridiculous. Just because shop assistants can be bitchy and I hate everyone looking at me doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have the Pretty Woman fancy shop experience… right?

The thing is, on top of all my other issues, I’m extremely fussy and I’ve found it nearly impossible to find any dress designers I actually like. (Seriously – wedding folk – can we stop with the corseted strapless diamante thing already?)

But then something miraculous happened – I fell in love (again). The object of my affections? Super-cool designer Kate Halfpenny). (Remember Kate Moss’ red sheer dress – that was a Halfpenny, as was Emilia Fox’s wedding gown).

It was among her backdrop of dainty sheer cover-ups, sparkling tulle skirts and fabric textures so luscious I had to sit on my hands to stop them running longingly over everything, that I finally found my enthusiasm for finding The Dress. A way of expressing my personality and all its quirks in one (happily flattering) white outfit. Not a boned corset or bland fabric in sight.

I knew we’d get on from the moment I contacted her, expressing my worries about the whole ‘bridal’ thing. It turns out that the type of girl at home in a Halfpenny gown is not the sort who’s been planning her wedding since the year dot – she’s had much better things to do – so I felt immediately comfortable fixing an appointment to meet Kate and her lovely team.

I had the place to myself, and the way the shop has been designed makes it feel like hanging out in a friend’s bedroom – albeit a supremely cool, wealthy friend with a thing for white. Her colleagues Alexia and Kerry had got to work like a SWAT team, knowing exactly which shapes and sizes to try, and cinching me into a waist-whittling bralette. I felt a bit like a living doll as, chatting away cheerfully and asking about my wedding, they popped elegant maxi skirts, silky slips and embellished belts over and around me. Their speed was incredible, and before I knew it I was in front of a mirror, every inch the bride and – more importantly – every inch myself.

Kate was expert at working out the ingredients for my dream outfit (“It’s not just what you’re saying, it’s what you’re not saying.” She noted sagely as I ummed and ahhed over a dress that wasn’t The One) and before half an hour was up, I’d found my perfect style. Ok, actually I found at least three I’d be more than happy to say ‘I do’ to!

The best thing about the day – apart from the swoony clothes – was the lack of a hard sell. I never once felt pressured to hand over a (half)penny, the emphasis was very much on try, and try again. Then make a follow up appointment and start all over again, this time focusing on specific items and any improvements or adjustments you’d like – if you want a longer sleeve/lower back/different neckline, it’s no problem.

So, to any nervous brides out there, trembling into their Harry Potter pjs at the thought of having a princess moment with strangers, I’d say it’s all about finding the right shop for you. Find the designs that make your heart sing, and you won’t care who’s watching you prance about like a dressage pony – in fact, the more the merrier. I wanted to invite people in off the street to see me in a particularly gorgeous embellished top and skirt combo. Bridal shopping should be fun – although it can be easy to forget in all the stress of co-ordinating practically everyone you’ve ever met for a whole day – and I was amazed to realise my appointment had finished, and it was time to put on my dull, every-day clothes again. Until my next visit.

If Halfpenny London sounds like a good fit, I’d recommend making a weekend of it, with a night at the Charlotte Street Hotel, Bloomsbury. It’s less than 20 minutes away on foot, and is perfect for a girly evening the night before. Dutch courage is available in the form of numerous elaborate cocktails and the service is second-to-none. The breakfast buffet is also a cut above, packed with homemade banana bread and fresh berries – perfect shopping fuel, I’m sure Kate Moss would agree.

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